Festivals in Japan
Festivals in Tokyo
May – Meiji Shrine Spring Grand Festival – This week long festival incorporates a series of traditional performances and demonstrations of typical Japanese arts such as, poetry, martial arts, dance and archery
May – Kanda Matsuri – Taking place in mid May during odd numbered years, alternating with the Sanno Matsuri, the Kanda Matsuri is one of Tokyo’s most famous festivals. Events are held over a week, with the most important happening on the weekend closest to May 15, including a day-long procession through central Tokyo on the Saturday, and parades of mikoshi in different areas on the Sunday.
May – Shibuya Ohara Matsuri – This annual event, held in the centre of Shibuya, has its roots in Ohara-bushi, a famous folk song from the early Edo period. The Ohara Festival is held in mid-May and sees about 2,500 people join in the parade.
Festivals in Kyoto and Nara
January – Wakakusa Yamayaki, Nara – An annual festival celebrated on the 4th Saturday of January, weather permitting, where the grass on the side of Nara’s Mount Wakakusayama is set on fire. Around 17:00, a procession leaves from Kasuga Taisha on its way to the mountain, arriving around 17:30 to light a bonfire. There is a colourful firework display before the bonfire is used to set the grass on the mountainside alight.
February – Setsubun Mantoro, Nara – On 3rd February each year, the Kasuga Taisha Shrine is illuminated by over 3,000 flickering candle lanterns. This mesmerising festival is a rare opportunity to see one of Nara’s most sacred shrines as it must have looked almost 1,000 years ago.
Festivals in Osaka, Takayama and Hiroshima
January – Toka Ebisu Festival, Osaka – More than one million pilgrims and visitors make their way to the Imamiya Ebisu shrine, founded in the seventh century, to celebrate “Ebessan” the deity of business, trade and fishing. Taking place over three days from January 9th to 11th, people go in search of success in business and personal growth for the coming year. For luck, bamboo branches decorated with amulets are distributed or sold during the festival.
April – Takayama Spring Festival – This festival, also known as Sanno Matsuri, is held annually at the Hie Jinja Shrine to usher in the coming of spring. There is a parade with 12 matsuri-yatai floats, and three of the floats feature marionette shows.
Festivals in Hokkaido
January / February – Chitose and Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival – Held at Lake Shikotsu hot springs, Shikotsu-Toya National Park, about 40 minutes drive from Sapporo. Lines of ice sculptures made from Lake Shikotsu’s water, are lit at night to form a colourful scene. There is an ice rink for sliding, not skating, and from 18:30 each Saturday and Sunday during there is an impressive fireworks display, and Wadaiko drum performances.
February – Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri) – The Sapporo Snow Festival is held every February and features spectacular snow and ice sculptures. It is one of Japan’s most popular winter events, attracting more than two million visitors.
February – Asahikawa Winter Festival – This week-long festival takes place in February each year, around the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival. So you can visit both festivals on the same trip, as they are just an 80 minute train ride apart. Every year a massive stage is built from ice, and music and dance shows are performed.
Other Festivals Around Japan
April – Inuyama Festival – Held annually on the first weekend of April, the highlight of this festival is the parade by 13 three-layered floats standing 25 feet high, accompanied by the music of Japanese flutes and drums. At night, all the floats are lit with Japanese lanterns, which combined with the cherry blossom make the for a truly unforgettable picture.
May – Hakata Dontaku Festival, Fukuoka – Held in Fukuoka on the 3rd and 4th of May each year, the Dontaku Festival is one of the most popularly attended festivals in Japan and is said to be the most popular held during the golden week holiday. The festival features groups of dancers in colourful clothes and decorated floats called hana jidosha (flower cars).
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